Slater still No.1 Maroon: Walters
Kevin Walters has used his first act as new Queensland Maroons coach to confirm that a fully fit Billy Slater will walk straight into fullback position that he has made his own since the 2009 State of Origin Series.
Walters is presently putting the finishing touches to the Emerging Origin squad that will assemble in Brisbane on January 29 and while there will be plenty of young faces eager to impress, the ageless Slater has nothing left to prove to Walters and the Queensland selectors.
Ruled out of Queensland's record-breaking Game Three victory at Suncorp Stadium due to a shoulder injury that brought his season to a premature end, Slater has played 27 Origin matches for the Maroons since making his debut on the wing in 2004, 22 of which have been wearing the No.1 jersey.
Deputising for Slater in Game Three last year – a role he also filled in Game Three 2012 – Rabbitohs superstar Greg Inglis scored a try, ran for 152 metres, had two line breaks and a try assist but Walters told NRL.com that providing he makes a successful return for the Storm the position will be Slater's in Sydney on June 1.
"Billy will go back to fullback and Greg will go back to the centres so that will mean [Will] Chambers can go into Hodgo's spot at right centre. That's how I see it at the moment," Walters said.
"Billy brings so much to the side.
"He brings a lot of energy, his speed, his acceleration and his communication and his all around game.
"Billy's got to get back playing but if you look back over the past five or six years, in all those Queensland wins Billy Slater is pretty prominent at fullback."
Having had surgery on his right shoulder at the end of the 2014 season, Slater made the decision to have surgery on his left shoulder in mid June having injured it playing against the Warriors in Round 5 last season.
Slater was one of the first members of the Storm squad to return to training on November 2 and while the left shoulder remains heavily strapped, is hopeful of playing in the Auckland Nines for the first time next month.
Walters believes that the combination of an extended break from the game followed by a solid pre-season will put Slater in position to return at the lofty standard we have come to expect.
"It will just freshen him up. He'll be a lot fresher having missed the back-half of last season," Walters said.
"I think he's done his first pre-season in a long time which is good. That's always good for a player, to get that good base to work on."